Listography 2011.

                     
In my working days, I dreaded the ice-breaker games or forms relating to personal goals, hobbies, or favorites.  As I've alluded to several times before, other than being a wife and mother, work is what I did, and what I knew.  Other than the very basic questions- and I mean basic- like "What's your favorite color?," having to categorize my life in the form of a list- my experiences, goals, favorites, my life beyond the 'office' - stressed me out. 

And in a way, it still does.  I mean it's easy to list  what I need to get done for the day, pick up from the grocery store, ... the simple stuff.  Yet when it comes to the "big stuff," it gets tough.  The past few years- especially this past year- have been a time of major reflection on all areas of life.  Blogging has served as a vehicle to not only express, but to develop a viewpoint, a style, a preference, in topics ranging from nail polish and t.v. to friendship and parenting.

But it's also served as a reminder of my incessant tendency (or flaw) to let life take over- even without a full-time job to stand in my way.  Time and time again, Busyness becomes my list, my occupation, my existence.  As much as I strive to live with purpose- with intention- the same ol' pattern resurfaces... days, weeks, months go by filled with stress, meaninglessness, busyness.  I let it take the driver seat, while I become a passenger heading towards an undetermined location, or worse- an undesired one.

Simply put- list-making and prioritizing are no longer a nice-to-do on the rare occasion that I am not busy, but a MUST.
 
~~~~~~
 
I was so happy to find out that two of my good friends, Danielle, @ Ellinad Spir, and Emily, @ Notorious MLE are on the same wavelength.  We decided to tackle this fear, and accomplish this goal together- with the help of this made-for-us planner- Listography 2011 Weekly Calendar... both organization and reflection in one fabulous book!  At the beginning of each week, we will fill out our to-do's, along with the corresponding list, which we'll post every Wednesday.  On my sidebar is the complete list of each week's topic- ranging (as it states on the back of the book) from autobiographical, to aspirational, to holiday-specific.

Do you want to join us??  If so, check out next week's topic, make your list, post it on Wednesday, and link up!  If you're not up for every list, just pick and choose the ones you want to complete and post... and share em with us!  A perfect way to get to know more about yourself and others, to ponder your past, to consider your future, to inspire and be inspired, and best of all- new blogger friends in the process!  If you want to start this week, head over to Danielle's to read her list, and add a link to your list.  Next week- on the 5th [topic:  List books that made you cry.], the link will be over at Emily's (we're rotating)!  No link?  Just put your list in the comment section.

So, without further ado, my first list of the year...



We're in San Jose for a week of holiday celebration and relaxation.  I look forward to starting the new year in a calm, focused, and energized state of mind.  HAPPY NEW YEAR to each and every one of you!
   

Cheers.

  
The Christmas cards have finally been crafted and mailed... The Cranberry Orange Vodka  is bottled up & loaded into "Santa's" sleigh...
                                        
               
We used a gold sharpie to label the bottles, and modified this tag (inserted the beverage and mixing instructions on the back).
 

Since I gave the vodka out to the book club gals last year I decided to give them a different beverage that I'd clipped and saved from a 'Giada article' in Self Magazine, from a couple years back... Rosé With Fresh Sage and Lemon.  It only needs to infuse for a day, which makes it a perfect last minute homemade gift, and adds a festive touch to a beverage that is typically enjoyed during the summer.


We used a 5 gal. bucket to hold the wine, lemon, and sage.  In the meantime, we cleaned the wine bottles and removed the labels.  When ready, we poured the beverage into the bottles, garnished each bottle with a couple of fresh lemon peels and sage leaves, and topped them with the original cork.
 

On a rainy Monday morning, with my tree lights shining bright, Christmas Blend brewing, kids soundly sleeping on their first official day of 'Christmas vacation, and without any of these festive drinks in my hand (probably a good thing since it's 7:00 in the morning) - I say CHEERSTo a happy & productive week.
  

Spirit in the making.


Well, hello!  First and foremost, thank you for your lovely comments on Monday, wishing me a happy break.  Although it was only a few days, stepping back and unplugging for a bit was just what I needed this week.  I have so much to write about and share, but still have lots to do (and "lots" includes getting caught up on all of your blogs!), and not much time to write.  So, as I ease my way back into my reader, and head into a weekend of baking and wrapping, I thought I'd share a favorite holiday beverage and homemade gift.
           
     

We make a BIG batch (next to this large dutch oven is a huge stockpot, filled with another set of cranberries, sugar, and vanilla beans), let it infuse for a week in a 5 gal. bucket, bottle it up (We wait for these or these to go on sale, buy the amount needed, drink 'em up, remove the labels, and use the bottles for packaging the vodka.), and the best part of all... spread the holiday "spirit".

 
This takes some planning, and a few extra supplies, but I guarantee, it is well worth it- and provides your loved ones a colorful, festive treat to enjoy during the season.  On Monday, after this sits its course, I'll share the finished product, along with another homemade beverage (a perfect last-minute gift).  
 
As Stephanie articulated oh-so-well, "And now back to the regularly scheduled holiday rush-to-get-it-all-done-all-while-enjoying-ourselves-immensely-and-creating-lasting-memories programming."  :)
                          

Time-out.

 
Image via
  {i have my own "ungooglable" man happily, soundly sleeping... while i google}

 
I've used up ALL of my self-allotted 'computer-time' (and believe me, I'm prettttty generous in my allotment) in the past few days - SHOPPING.

... Therefore, a mini blog break must pursue.

Just a little one.

But please share- how was your weekend?? 
 

Holiday blur.



The weekend came- and left- in a flashA shimmering of fun...


Turkey Gumbo     Christmas tree decorating          Moroccan cooking class          a bit of lounging    messages from Santa      Mulled Cider
  
 
...refusing to allow the looming cloud of to-do's from bursting into a rain-pour of STRESS.
 
Staying focused in what could be the holiday blur.  Yep, that's my my mantra for the week.   
    

Repose.

Image via

Cabernet, Walden, yours truly - and this picture would be complete.

...
 
 Each morning sees some task begun, each evening sees it close; Something attempted, something done, has earned a night's repose.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
 
{wishing you a weekend- or @ the very least, a few moments- of lounging}
   

5 *star service.

  
December is upon us.  Hanukkah  has begun.  Advent calenders go up.  Letters to Santa go out.  And some will even get a response.  Or maybe a message from one of his little helpers.  A magical time where baking is no longer a sinful indulgence, but instead a virtuous necessity. And shopping - well, let's just say I have a few organization-related-to-do's this week, before I introduce any more objects into my home (even if those objects are in fact, for other people).

Nothing major, just 2 projects that need to be done... that will make both shopping and wrapping that much easier - 1) my computer files (endless ideas of gifts, crafts, recipes, you-name-it), and 2) my office closet (bins of candles, ribbon, wrapping paper, craft-supplies galore).

In getting started- sorting through the information abyss that is my computer files/bookmarks/inbox/reader, I realized that I had not yet shared a great find- and remarkable customer service.

Over the summer, I shared our attachment to wine country.  Since we cannot go as often as we would like, we continue to find ways to bring it to us.  I loved the idea of using old wine crates for creative storage, entertaining, and even shelving, yet they can be ridiculously priced.  So, when I saw this post, on Remodelista, featuring wine crates for $20.00, I got on the phone and placed my order.

I am not being reimbursed in any way to endorse this company, but I wanted to share the amazing level of service I received @ Wine Pine.  I was immediately told that the wine crates do not in fact look like the ones that were featured- but even better (marker/stickers removed).  I spoke with the owner directly, received additional pictures via email of the crates that he personally recommended, and was even  guided to spend less so that I could receive a better shipping rate!  Informative, down-to-earth, and friendly... top-notch service.  I realize that the holidays are in full swing, and on everyone's brain, but didn't want to miss the opportunity to share.  
 
And if you do purchase a crate of your own, or have one already, here's a little inspiration on how you can use it in your home - indoors and out...
   
Images via (left to right; top to bottom)  12-3, 45-6, 78
 

Let the dieting (& shopping) begin.

  
We made it.  And have a truck load of my grandma's dishes, tight pants (speaking for myself on this one), a couple of carcasses in the freezer, and the past 3 days of leftover meals to show for it.

And LOTS of memories...
 
{the prep}  
 kids decorating their table (stickers/colored pencils/'butcher' paper); the pre and post turkey prep (see what your hosts have to go through for your eating pleasure???); Grandma's shrimp cocktail

{the tables}
 99 Cents Store [kids] 'port' glasses; artwork from years past; lots of drinking to be had; Grandma's turkey plates and nostalgic candle holders

{the food}
sage buttermilk biscuits; three herb butter; lots of sides (thanks to my mom & her husband!) and dressing; 2 turkeys: 1 smoked/grilled, 1 oven-roasted (our solution to having A LOT of people and 1 oven!)

 
Now I'm off to take advantage of a few cyber-Monday deals- and to print out last weeks' holiday exchange recipes... Cranberry Bread and Apple Sausage Dressing (with that Cornbread recipe I've been waiting for!).  Just because Thanksgiving's over, doesn't mean I can't cook up a delicious dish of dressing- and one that is totally different than our traditional recipe, I might add (that diet will have to wait until next week)... right??

I hope you recovered from enjoyed your holiday!
 

In good company.

   
 Image via
  
DESTINATION:  A "perfect" Thanksgiving.

Road stops: 
  1. Claro's
  2. Ikea
  3. Lakeshore
  4. Whole Foods
  5. World Market
  6. Target
  7. Trader Joe's
  8. Ralphs
  9. Costco
  10. Albertsons
  
Remember when I talked about my goal of keeping it simple?  After 3 days of preparing- cleaning, shopping, organizing, prepping, list-making- I can admit that we're failing miserably in category of simplicity.  And although I'm a bit (to say the least) shopped out (and no Christmas presents to show for it), I am in perfect company-on this 'Thanksgiving road trip.'

In the past few years, we have co-hosted Thanksgiving dinner, along with my (84 year old) grandma, at our house.  It is equally invigorating and exhausting... a balancing act of keeping with tradition and veering off into new territory- of saying goodbye to stuffing and hello to dressing, farewell to curly parsley and welcome, to Italian parsley.  A [uphill] battle of simplicity and complexity.  We've managed to convince my wonderfully-perfectionist-grandma (at least I know where I got it from!) that it really is okay to utilize the food processor, and yet, we are now well aware of the wonder of Wonder Bread when it comes to her age-old, family-coveted "stuffing"... that certain ingredients just can't be 'modernized.'  

It's a rocky road, on this yearly excursion to hosting the ultimate Thanksgiving dinner, with a few road bumps along the way, however it's not the destination, but the journey that counts- and I couldn't ask for better traveling companions. 
 
Whether you're venturing out, or staying in, have a wonderful Thanksgiving, and remember:  SAVE THE CARCASS!!
   

Holiday Recipe Exchange: Turkey Gumbo.

 
 Image scanned from The Comfort Table:  Recipes for Everyday Occasions, by Katie Lee

When Michelle, @ Pretty Mommy suggested a new recipe exchange, a Holiday Exchange (still time to join!), I immediately signed up for today, the Monday of Thanksgiving week, because I need to share this tried & true Thanksgiving leftover recipe - courtesy of Katie Lee (Many know her as former wife to Billy Joel, or the gal with the amazing Nate-Burkus-designed-home, but I'm a fan of her cookbooks, and here's why).  I saw her prepare it a couple of years ago, on the Early Show, and have made it several times since... It's that good.

You'll notice that there is no recipe picture included (just a lovely, simple table setting from her recent cookbook), and that's because I'm not making it until after Thanksgiving!  But I wanted to share it with you in advance, because in order to make it, you must save your turkey carcass.  Yep.  It's a waste not want not recipe, and allows you to take FULL advantage of that delicious turkey that you're about to indulge in.  So, this year, instead of tossing the carcass in the garbage, toss it into a bag and into your fridge (or freezer); you'll be amazed at how much meat and flavor is left to savor.

*I'm purposely not formatting the recipe in a fancy printable format, because I want to tell you about this fantastic 'print-friendly' feature (it's the little things)!  I showed you how to include a button under each of your blog posts, but since most people do not yet have this, here's how you can make any post printable (and format it to your liking!) in a flash.  When you want to print this recipe, press HERE.  Drag the "Print Friendly" button to your browser (or just enter the url).  It will automatically transform any post into a printable format, and allow you to delete images or sections that you don't wish to print (i.e. to delete this paragraph, just press on it and poof- gone).
  
  
Max's Turkey Gumbo

1 turkey carcass
1 stick unsalted butter
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 yellow onions, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
10 cups water
2 chicken bouillon cubes
1 pound smoked sausage (such as Andouille or Kielbasa), sliced ¼ inch thick
1 Tablespoon Creole seasoning
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Steamed rice, for serving

Remove turkey meat from carcass and dice. Set aside.


In a large Dutch oven over medium heat, melt butter. Add flour and reduce heat to low. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture is chocolate brown, about 15 minutes. Do not let burn. Stir in onions, celery, and green pepper and cook an additional 5 minutes. Stir in 10 cups water and bouillon cubes. Place turkey carcass in the water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and continue to simmer for 4 hours. Remove carcass. Add reserved turkey meat and sausage. Stir in Creole seasoning and season with salt and pepper. Simmer one hour. Serve with steamed rice.

8 Servings 
 
*Cook's Notes
  • We remove the meat from the carcass on Thanksgiving and immediately place it in a bag and into the freezer.  When we make the soup, we use shredded turkey (leftover from Thanksgiving), and simply toss the carcass in (any remaining bits of meat will come off into the soup).
  • Before I melt the butter, and make the roux, I gently sear the slices sausages, then pull them out and reserve them for later.  I use a tad of red or white wine vinegar to deglaze the pan before melting the butter.  I like the richness that this adds to the soup, as well as the texture that it gives to the sausage.
  • If you prefer, feel free to use chicken or turkey stock in place of the bouillon cubes.
  • This recipe makes A LOT of gumbo.  Use a big pot and be prepared to break the carcass in 1/2 if you cooked a large turkey!  We always end up freezing the leftovers; it reheats very well, meat and all.
  • Garnish with whatever you'd top off a bowl of gumbo... green onions, a dash of Tobasco, additional Creole seasoning- and a nice crusty loaf of warmed French bread never hurts.
 
ENJOY! And make sure to head over to Michelle's, @ Pretty Mommy tomorrow to see what she's got cookin'!
  

Happy Birthday Ryan.

                                     
 Card from Jack Cards, right here .
  
  
They say that behind every successful man lies a woman. 

For me, the reverse is true.


You may be the "behind-the-scenes" guy in many ways...

...but you're *in the spotlight* of my heart. 

Every. Single. Day. 
    
{and I can't wait for a weekend of celebrating YOU}
 

Go get {those presents} smoothie!

                                                            
                                                               
The title was my feeble attempt to link the two [unrelated] topics in one post:

  1. the smoothie recipe that I promised on Monday... Go Get 'Em Smoothie 
  2. a  very fun holiday gift guide

But really, this is a breakfast that I would definitely make for myself if I were to be heading out the door for a day of Christmas shopping (*if, being a key word, since I have not yet experienced any days of gift shopping- other than for myself, as of late).

Ever since receiving this fantastic cookbook- Nigella Express, I have kept frozen bananas stored in my freezer for those days when I need breakfast in a hurry, or on the go... or when we're out of everything else.  It is extremely easy, healthy, and "ultradelicious" (as it states in the book).  You can find the recipe here, or even better, watch the lovely Kitchen Goddess herself, right here!

* A couple of smoothie notes...
  • The book offers a kid substitution that is not included in the above link- replace espresso powder with a TB of peanut butter, for extra protein, minus the caffeine boost.
  • Feel free to bump up the espresso quantity, if a 1/2 tsp doesn't quite do it for you (note the 1/2 TB in the picture).
  • It's a smoothie!  Add whatever you'd like- protein powder, wheat germ, flax seed...

Now, onto the holiday gift guide! 
 
One of my very favorite blogs (Elleinad Spir), and friends (Danielle), reached out to the gals of several of her daily blog reads, and asked them what the number one item was on their wish list this holiday season.  I love this idea, because we typically see holiday gift guides that are compiled with others in mind (for the teens... for the men... for the toddlers).  Not this one!  No siree.  For US!!

It's a 3 part series (today-Friday), and I'm included in Part 1 (thanks Danielle!).  So, if you'd like to buy me a gift for Christmas get some great gift ideas, and discover some lovely women and blogs in the process, head over here, today...tomorrow...and Friday!!
 

The eternal question.

                                        
{Click to enlarge.} 
"What to Eat" pads available @ KNOCK KNOCK.
*I start my week on Monday, & "end" it on Sunday... hence, the rearranging of days.
 

 I go back and forth in weekly meal planning.  Sometimes it's a roadway to a week of structure, routine, and organization.  Other times, it's more of a roadblock to spontaneity, creativity, and the simplicity of making do.  With Thanksgiving knocking @ the door, Ryan's birthday this Sunday, and not to mention, Hailey has minimum day everyday, this is a definite Type-A-Personality-Week.  One bulk grocery trip... eating at a decent time, and more importantly, no pondering WHAT TO EAT. 
 
Some recipe links, if you too, are looking for a little cooking inspiration and in a planning kinda mood...
 
Chocolate Nut Bread (needed to use up cake flour and buttermilk... love that you can type in the ingredients that you have for quick recipe suggestions!)


Shrimp Tikka Masala (from Naina's stylish blog, an extremely popular Indian dish)
 
Roasted Broccoli & Cauliflower (the best method for roasting broccoli) 
 
Dirty Risotto (loosely basing ours on this recipe... a perfect end-of-the-week "use-up" dish)

Flourless Peanut Butter Cookies (can't wait to try Valerie's SIMPLE recipe... Ryan's favorite cookie, and it's his birthday and all :)
 
*Stay tuned for a perfect "get-up-and-go smoothie recipe"!  (I'm sure the anticipation is just killing you.)
 

A cup of inspiration.

Image via

The week has been a roller coaster.  An extra amount of kid-drama (and that's an understatement). _ And to think, they're home with me for the next 2 days- and pretty much the whole month of November... {BREATH}.  [*Disclaimer:  I LOVE being with my kids, but I'll pass on the extra drama!]

Yep.  Lots of highs and lows in a matter of what, 2 days?!  However, there has been lots of doingand since you probably don't want to hear about the mountains of laundry I've climbed, the piles of dishes I've hurdled through, the toilets I've tackled- okay, anyways...

What has remained consistent, has been my morning cup of Starbucks, and the accompanying blog reading.  In so many areas, big and small, during that cup (or 2) of sipping, I've felt utterly connected, inspired, motivated, and informed (enough to change, to do, to share).  And lately, it's got me thinking about why I love blogging...
 
...It is entirely customizable, just like a Starbucks coffee beverage!  And the combination choices are literally ENDLESS.  Whether you have 1 or 1000 followers, everyone- and I mean everyone- has their own unique customization choices in both how they create and maintain their own blog, and how they form their own "daily-read" list.  It reminds me of my Starbucks barista days, when my primary job requirement was to get to know each 'regular' by serving them their personal, customized, favorite beverage of choice.  

Yes- each person (and blog) is similar in many ways, but every single one of them has their own spin- their own style, their own partiality & preferences, their own blend.  And that is why I continue to read your blogs, and add new ones to my already full reader... So, today, "I'd like to order a double-tall-stlyle-w/ cooking-x-tra motherhood-no travel-light photography blog please."  (and for the next 2 days, I think I'll be take it black)
 

My mantra for the week.

 
Image via
 

This week, I'm going to be a doer.
  
For the record- 

Referring to this kind of doer.

Not this kind.

...because mantras need to be specific.
  
(sorry Ryan)
 

A story of acceptance... and judgement.

 
No pictures today, just words.  A story that I've debated whether or not to publish, but after reading this post, shared by Danielle, I felt a responsibility to share.  Below is the comment that I left on the post.  (I'd highly recommend reading her story before mine.)

I must share that I have had a similar experience recently that I have not written about- until now.  Last week, my 12 year old son needed to wear crazy socks for school.  We had a boy scout function that lasted until pretty late in the evening, which left no time to buy socks.  Since he was going to be a gnome for Halloween (which I thought was pretty cool and daring to dress up as a gnome at his middle school- in light of the fact that everything out of the ordinary is considered GAY), he had an extra pair of long black socks.  I suggested that he cut holes in the socks to make them look "crazy."  He and his dad cut big holes, he tried them on, and we all thought they looked perfect- and were different from the normal silly socks that he'd worn in years past.  The next day, when I picked him up, he said that a couple of people liked them, but a couple of older kids (who have never talked with him prior) asked him if he was a "fag."  A couple of others said they look like fish-net stockings... "stripper socks".  We had a discussion about it and in the end he felt okay about the situation.  The day after that, as I picked him up, he shared a conversation that he had with a girl from his school.  The girl was talking about her friend- discussing that he is considered to be gay by all of the other kids (due to "gay" activities, such as wearing tights, heels, etc.).  My son shared a bit of what we had discussed the prior day- in essence, that this boy may or may not be gay- but in middle school, "everything" that is different is considered gay.  She replied with a statement to the effect of "Oh yeah- like yesterday, I told my mom about your socks, and she said, 'Isn't that gay??'"

And some wonder why kids act the way they do... why they judge, bully, criticize.

HATS OFF TO YOU FOR YOUR COURAGE TO DO WHAT YOU FELT IS RIGHT- for accepting your son for who he is.

Words cannot express how much this issue- of judgment (parent-parent, parent-to-others' children, child-child) and bullying concerns me.  It is sad that something like wearing silly socks now needs to be scrutinized because a thought has been placed in Jacob’s head that this “could be gay.”

Thank you Danielle, for sharing the article, as it gave me a chance to put this experience that has been ‘eating at me’ into words.

* Jacob did dress in his gnome costume the next day- and won 1st place!
 

Winter Wonder[blog]land.

  Image via

From the time I passed out (from candy & activity overdose) to the time I entered the web (specifically Blogland) - on November 2nd, oh- at about 8:30am...

Autumn seems to have disappeared - instantaneously displaced with Christmas cards, gift lists, "Keep it simple" tips, party dresses, advent calendars, holiday menus, decorations, crafts, music, downloads, tags, wrapping paper, and countdowns.  What was that about keeping it simple???  I am all for planning ahead, but WHOA.  I better take down these Halloween decorations and pull out November's Real Simple (ya know, so I can keep it simple)... and grab a cup o' coffee - or a glass (or 10) of wine.

So, here's the deal.  I do need to dive in to holiday planning mode.  1) Thanksgiving's at our house.  2) Shopping was done at this time last year; this year, nothing.  And 3) like everyone else out there, I simply want to be productive so that we can enjoy the season.  For these reasons- I am LOVING anything that helps me stay organized, inspired, and calm.

I've written about a couple of these items, here- and here, and I now have a new internet love - Pinterest.  Seriously love it.  I signed up a while back, but thought it was just another thing to manage and update.  Not the case.  You sign up.  They send you a code to get started.  You drag a "Pin It" button to your toolbar... and VOILA.  A virtual pinboard, for you to pin away with the click of a button- anytime you see something that you are inspired by, want to save, share, blog, do, buy...  

I'd really love it if you all joined with me.  I'm just starting out, but how fun it would be to fill our boards together, and inspire one another in a more immediate, direct way.  Not another social network site to manage or keep up with- and sources are automatically credited.  My boards are right here, if you'd like to see :).  I'm off to dig up, or "pin" up some more pictures (preferably Autumn pictures).

P.S.
For this week's recipes click here (Autumn has definitely not exited the recipe-exchange-building).
  
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